Discuss longhaul
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Travel is the most private of pleasures. There is no greater bore than the travel bore. We do not in the least want to hear what he has seen... (Vita Sackville West).

Thursday, April 29, 2004

A Glimpse of Art Deco Splendour
Brooklyn Bridge towards Brooklyn
Brooklyn Bridge towards Manhattan
Brooklyn Brownstones
One of nature's perfect combinations - bluebells and stichwort.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Theoretically at least, I have spent the last six days zipping to and fro across the Atlantic, first to Washington and then to New York. Sadly the first leg of this trip was to Washington in the nominal sense only. Occasionally we are stuck out in the sticks of a place instead of being plunged into the thick of things and Washington turned out to be just such a destination. I found myself marooned in this really weird place called Tyson's Corner, part of a horrible built-up splurge of soulless urban nonentity that seems to cover a chunk of north-western Virginia. Washington itself was separated from all this by the Potomac river to the north.

It took some time to get my bearings. Even the useless pilots couldn't tell me where the hotel was in relation to the airport and how many miles to Washington. (It seems they switch off all navigational skills as the engines are shut down). The hotel could provide me with no satisfactory map - only a technicolour flimsy with the various trunk routes scrawled across it. No detail! Where was I?

Looking out the hotel windows at the surroundings, it was hard to dredge up factual word to describe the area. Perhaps "Business Park" is the closest term. I don't think we have them on this scale yet in Britain thank God. There were hardly any pavements, just roads, parking lots, office apartments (with no-one in them as it was a Saturday) and landscaped verges or patches of lawn around buildings. You couldn't walk anywhere because for a start no map exists of it and secondly there are no facilities for pedestrians at all. No local shops, not so much as a post box. At the edges of roads it was all landscaping or concrete walls and if you had tried to walk you would soon have met a dual carriageway with no way of crossing it. I felt completely trapped and completely pissed off. The only activity on offer was a free hotel shuttle to the local mall. I thought I'd try it, even though I hate shopping and air-conditioning. Big mistake.

Hoping to shed some light on my whereabouts I was quite heartened to find a branch of Rand Macnally - publishers of American maps and travel books in the mall. With a bit of mental hand-rubbing and satisfied deep breathing, I entered with positive hopes for the place and its staff. These were soon dashed. It took twenty minutes for the two gormless men selling the maps to actually pin-point where we were. I produced sheet after sheet at the desk and these two brainless twonks pored over them scratching their heads and muttering "Er...gee....dunno!". Useless! How can you turn up to a place of work day after day and never know where it is in relation to anything else? I asked them how they ever found the way to anywhere and they just smiled vacantly and replied "Oh, we just do" - not a sufficient explanantion.

In the end, we did find a map with the mall on it, but the hotel and its immediate streets were still considered too insignificant to be marked. Rand Macnally are the Ordnance Survey of the States and had done their best no doubt, but I could see from the map that the area for miles around was just a mass of tedious car-obsessed planning. It reminded me of a radio play I heard years ago about some aliens looking down on earth from outer space who concluded that the inhabitants were all shiny metallic square things with wheels who were afflicted with odd little two-legged parasites from time to time. The world of Washington's outer suburbs is like this. I considered buying the map as at least some kind of mental anchor to cling to but was so disgusted by what it represented, I eventually flung it back on the shelf. My mood had plummeted further.

Why is it that at times like this I have never learned that the very last thing one should do next is try and buy some new clothes? A total moral decline was in store over the next hour and a half until I could escape the mall on the return shuttle as I decided to attempt buying some white bras to wear under the new uniform currently being rolled out across the airline. (New white shirts require new white bras and I don't own any at all). I experienced the usual aggravation at being a size that doesn't exist in the imaginations of bra designers (for which I don't balme them - it isn't very titillating). But really 36AA - it is a nonsense of bodily form. I have never met anyone else who admitted to being this size. I always have to compromise between rib-crushing circumference elastic or hamster-like spare pouches in the nipple region. This time I opted for the former with another little number that is basically like a turban for the breasts - completely failing to enhance the little I do possess. Damn and blast it all. I bet these rantings will now replace the adverts for wheelie-bins with miracle bra-claims in the adverts that pop up alongside the discussion board.

In a foul temper I returned to the hotel and out of desperation resorted for the first time in my life to ordering a movie on the pay-tv in the room. Since starting longhaul there have been many occasions where it has proved difficult to attract the attention of my passengers because they are so engrossed in some hilarious film they are loth to remove their headphones to be questioned as to food/drink preferences. One film in particular has had the capacity to reduce the grimmest looking businessmen to giggling or even guffawing out loud and that has been Something's Gotta Give with Diane Keating and Jack Nicholson. Curiosity drove me to order this one as its appeal had been so universal on board. I sat through the whole thing and kept waiting for the really funny bit which never materialised. (It really was one of those days). Mildly entertaining is the best that can be said for it. I'm surprised everyone else thought it was so funny. Have any of you seen it?

I was very glad to get away from Tyson's Corner. In the two or three days it took to get there and back, the cow parsley had bloomed in Hertfordshire all along the roadsides and hedges. I really love it. I don't like missing the subtle changes of season by being out of the country like this. It seems to be true that Britain experiences seasons more richly than nearly everywhere else I've ever been. Lucky us. The bluebells are also at their best just now and there should be a photo of some coming up on the blog soon. Looking at them mixed with white stitchwort it seems very comforting to me that it is things like this that our atoms and nutrients will go towards creating once we're dead. Not depressing - more cheering than anything else.

So, Neeeow Yawk. I have waxed lyrical about this city enough by now to have drummed into anyone reading this who has never been there that you really should take the opportunity to visit if you can. Yesterday was a beautiful spring day there with a refreshing breeze and the sun high in the sky. My goal was to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge which runs from south-east Manhattan across to Brooklyn on the next gigantic lump of land over. (Only The Bronx is really part of the US mainland - all other New York suburbs are on islands of varying size). I had just seen Paul's photos of his recent ten-day trip to NY and wanted to try and capture the beauty of the bridge as he had managed to do. It is quite tricky as one's fellow pedestrians and cyclists tend to get in the way most of time, mucking up the bridge's innate symmetry and my results are not quite as I'd have wished having been hurried attempts at the definitive shot. I'll stick a couple of them on here though.

It was lovely walking suspended over the East River with the wind in my hair and the early sunshine lighting up water, the famous skyline and other people's faces. There was plenty of photography going on. It is impossible to resist the charms of Brooklyn Bridge. I'd rate this activity in the top ten of things to do in NYC.

Brooklyn itself was relaxed and full of cool types. There are lots of second or third generation immigrants from Italy, Poland the former Soviet Union or the Middle East here. "Brownstones" is the name given to the terraced houses that line the residential roads - currently hot-property. It is reminiscent if Greenwich Village in looks but with a slightly edgier feel. I had a lunch of pierogis (Polish dumplings) and discovered Height's Secondhand Bookstore where a frenzy of bookbuying overtook me, though all I left with was presents for various of you - so await with anticipation! The exceedingly impressive bookseller was anxious for me to find something for myself aswell and although we failed in this attempt, he proved himself to have an encylopaedic knowledge of things literary. A very clever and warm man - unlike most secondhand book dealers who, at least in the UK, tend to be stuck-up and officious.

I had a good wander round the streets and admired al Qaida's modified version of Manhattan's skyline - it still looks good and as I never saw it before, it doesn't look wrong to me of course. Then back to the hotel and an hour later back to a plane. Before I close I should just add for the sake of anyone who was wondering about such things, that this was the first trip since my ill-fated Tel Aviv back in February (?) that I have worked in the Club Cabin (business class). It got dumped on me finally even though I have been doing a good job of avoiding it. This time four of us worked up there and I had a brilliant teacher in the form of a woman called Basia (Polish/Austalian/British mixture). She was very good at spelling out what we had to do when and how for four long sectors and I owe her a debt as I now feel more confident about the whole service. In fact it would be true to say I ended up enjoying it. Once you have the hang of it it is much more civilised and less frantic than plying your trade in the human zoo at the back. More than anything else it reminds me of a stage performance. You are necessarily acting a part the whole time and it is all a question of stlye, presentation and a lot of dealing with hecklers. But it all settles down after the first hour or so into quite a rarefied and harmonious atmosphere. With a good crew, which we had, a remarkably fine job can be done even with all the restrictions that being trapped in a metal tube brings. We were shit-hot actualy and I think any other airline would have had to work hard to better us over the past few days. Not always the case no doubt.

Well I'm starting to sound terribly corporate here so I'll disappear before I attract a volley of stories of how all your journeys went wrong and how it was all BA's fault etc. I don't want to know. OK? Next up Sao Paulo, Brazil by the way.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Singapore Style 1
Singapore Style 2
Singapore Style 3
Singapore Style 4
Singapore Lady

Saturday, April 17, 2004

It was a relief to be greeted by mist-swathed fields and a grey dawn on landing back at London this morning. The trees had all blossomed in my absence and the air was chilly and cleared the lungs of however many hours worth of stifling aircraft staleness. The only fresh air I have had for the past nine days was during my sojourn to Sydney. The rest of the time it's either been air-conditioned or eighty percent saturated with humidity in Singapore. A gulp of this stuff is more like drowning than breathing and I think gills would have been more useful than lungs.

Still, although I am definitely not cut out for the climate, there is much to be said for Singapore...of which more later, but first here are some facts.

The island and country of Singapore lies at the southern end of the Malay peninsula and it is an independent state having shaken off Britain's Colonial yoke in the early 1960's. The city is also called Singapore and 76% of the inhabitants are ethnic-Chinese, 13% Malays, 7% Indians and the rest other nationalities. Due to the paternalistic and strict government everyone is very well behaved and gets along nicely together, or else. All the religions practise here harmoniously, the customs and festivals of each being respected by the others and Singapore has been booming for most of the past 30 years and continues to prosper. It's a tiny place though being only 42km long and 23km wide which makes it more the size of a county than a country by Brisitsh standards, yet 3.3 million people are crammed into it, all speaking their ethnic languages but conversing communally in English (or a version of it).

The British influence stems from the time of Sir Stamford Raffles who arrived in 1819 and wangled Singapore from of the Malays to be used as a trading port between East and West. Until the Japanese invaded during WWII we pretty much ruled the roost and on the whole that doesn't seem to have been a bad thing for anyone. I spoke to a few Singaporeans about this seemingly imperialist statement and no-one disagreed. That's just how history has it.

Nowadays you walk around the city and all the roads have names like Somerset Road, Northumberland Avenue, Mackenzie Place, Dunlop Street etc. You could make them up and then find then on the map afterwards - they'll be there. All the economic growth of the latter part of the C20th has meant that Singapore looks a very modern city with skyscrapers and a brilliant transport system called the MRT which is like the tube but clean, efficient and safer. There is hardly any litter, chewing gum is banned and there are posters up everywhere reminding you not to become a drug addict, not to forget that antisocial behaviour impacts negatively on your fellow beings, not to spit on the street and that basically big brother is watching you to check you are minding your p's and q's all the time. Far from feeling sinister however, this all results in a very relaxing and pleasant environment where crime is low and you feel as if you could sleep on a bench all night and remain unmolested. Nor do the Singaporeans appear to feel resentful or suffocated by all this bossing. You only have to visit one of the numerous food courts on a weekday lunchtime to watch the locals in action, filling their faces with whatever delicacy takes their fancy from the various outlets round the outside - everyone looks to be having a really great time! I sampled several such eateries (they are de-rigeur here) and the noise was like a school dining room with guffaws of laughter and girlish giggling, slupings of runny noodle soups and clickings of chopsticks. Polite, patient and lively - that's the average Singaporean.

It was lucky they were too as I needed coaxing and soothing with the temperatures what they were. On my last day I took a walk to the Botanic Gardens, went the wrong way, tried to find a shortcut which after a further half an hour turned into a dead end, had to retrace all my steps and revert to the route I should have taken originally and finally arrived in a less than cucumber-like state at the visitor centre where I lumbered a poor little man with my sweaty European woes. He sweetly provided me with plasters for my blistered feet and refused a donation. "No Madam, we don't take donations from the public." Surely unheard of for such an institution. At Kew Gardens they can't wait to get their hands on your filthy lucre.

If you take it easy and go out at the beginnings and ends of days, it is bearable and I was starting to get used to it by the time we left again. As I found myself awake at strange times, I did manage to see a lot of the city and the parks. The very varied architecture and the heady smells of tropical blooms and damp vegetation are all lovely and make you glad to be alive. Just remember the old adage about mad dogs and Englishmen, get a bus to the botanic gardens and you'll be fine.

If skyscrapers don't inspire you it is easy to seek out more interesting and older buildings from Singapores past. There are rows of "shophouses" all brightly coloured and mainly found in Little India and Chinatown. Colonial splendours such as Raffles' Hotel where I had the infamous Singapore Sling and various city halls and museums - all colonades, pillars and white stone. Temples, churches and mosques dot the city and filling in the gaps are lots of beautiful canopied trees. The trees are one of the best things as they provide welcome shade of course but they're also kind to the eye giving gracious lines to the foreground and relief from the unremitting ninety-degree angles of modern towerblocks. I will put some photos of architectural styles on the blog so you can see what I mean. They don't really reflect the general impression of the city though which is one of modern high rise tempered with greenery. This was too boring to phtotgraph.

Other oddities: Fortune telling is everywhere. There are fake stone monstrosities plonked at likely public gathering places with the face of a man on the front and an invitation to part with a dollar to see what the day has in store for you. The mouth of truth will then spit out your fortune in the shape of a paper message. I did not take up the opportunity nor did I wish to discover my horoscope, be analysed by a crystal-weilding palmistry buff or partake of any of the other methods of outpacing fate. But the Singaporean-based cabin crew of which we had three to help us on the flights were quite open to such things.

I also had a cultural moment whilst in a queue to buy my lunch. You had to gather bits and pieces from an array of greenery, deep-fried won tons, dumplings and white balls of God know's what and present them to the chef who boiled it all up in a soy-based broth for you. I took the advice of a lady next to me who recommended this or that and suggested a slice of yam but then hurriedly added that I should not try this if I had a skin condition. I was dimly aware that this was a very Chinese way of looking at food - knowing all the effects of everything and being careful about what you put in your body. I left the yam being an excema-ridden sort.

On another occasion I met an Indian lady who I thought was weeding along the banks of an urban canal, but it turned out she was harvesting some leaves which grew wild there as medicine for eyes and memory. She gave me some and instructed me to boil them up, but they didn't survive the heat any better than I did and were little stringy bits of green by the time I got them back to the hotel.

Food was a problem as I soon tired of rice and noodles and kept being awake at stupid times and not fancying anything available on the restricted late-night room service menu. By the time I got home today I realised I haven't really had what I would call a proper meal since I left these shores. This has since been rectified - for which thank you Mum.

A few days off now in which to readjust to GMT, then to Washington and NYC once again on Friday. Oh, and some good news! Belford has got at least a temporary reprieve! Having just spent a long weekend up there straight after me, it worked its charms on Mum and she can't bear to part with it just yet either so everything is hanging in the balance once more. They are considering whether to go and live up there again or perhaps to try and look for a slightly bigger holiday cottage in the area, but for now at least, the foothold in the north is safe. Hurrah!

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

G'day possums! Sorry, I had to write that even though I know it's corny. Forgive me if this entry is less coherant than usual, I have been fuelled by two delicious glasses of Aussie red wine and bugger the French say I.

(Sober up girl).

I like it here! Never thought I would, having found Aussies on my own patch rather irritating in the past. I'm sure Jo and Jude would confirm that having travelled to Tuscany to soak up the Italian atmosphere in a villa/hostel a couple of years ago, it was pretty annoying to find the whole place run by Aussies insisting on barbeques every Monday and enforcing rules and regs in strident nasal tones. It has always got on my nerves that just as you are enjoying some splendid vista in the Scottish Highlands, an Aussie voice will suddenly pipe up asking if you fancy a try of today's special whisky. It's true, they get everywhere and are in-your-face and brash, but here on their own patch I am bound to forgive them every previous misdemeanor.

We arrived early this morning from Singapore and it was raining! I was quite gald about this as you know how I feel about temperatures above 19 degrees. The smells drifting up from the ground were reminiscent of Cornwall - flowery, grassy, warm and welcoming.

It was just about light as we checked-in to the very modern and convenient Novotel in Darling Harbour and I determined to get out and see some sights before crashing into bed. The light filtering through the taller, newer buildings and falling obliquely on the older, more sympathetic brick structures was glorious. To my surprise there is plenty of "old Sydney" left standing, giving this city the feel of British cities of having emerged through time rather than having been thrown-up or over-planned. Every five minutes my amazement at the beauty of it all grew as I walked thorugh parks full of sinewy trees, down elegant leafy avenues and stopped to admire graceful fountains. The place is screaming culture and aestheticism at you. It has nearly the impact of New York and I have to admit I wasn't expecting to be bowled over by it at all but I have been.

I got a shock in the botanic gardens though. Attracted by blood curdling sceechings into a very shady wooded area I tried to identify where and what the clamour originated from. Things that looked like brown plasic bags full of shopping hooked over the topmost branches of trees seemed to be squabbling viciously with one another, every now and again shooting out a clawed leg to scratch a neighbour of sinking nasty little fangs into a compatriot's flesh. Will gradual revulsion dawning, I realised these evolutionary freaks were gigantic bats. If you have read Northern Lights, they are quite obviously where Pullman got his inspiration for the harpies from. (Cross a giant bat with a female cabin crew member and you get a harpie). The noise was phenomenal as screams and bat-insults ripped through the air. God knows how the creatures ever get round to breeding as they obviously detest each other with a vengence. If I'd had an umbrella handy I'd have erected it as shelter as the idea of a couple losing their grip and tumbling intertwined in passionate combat to drop on my head was quite horrendous. And they stank too.

Thankfully I came through unscathed, though shaken, and emerged onto the waterfront to view the Opera House in all its glory bathed in the warm morning sunshine. I wont go on about the lovely views to be had in Sydney Harbour as they are so well known it would be stating the obvious. Suffice to say, they are not exaggerated. I stopped for dinner (for me) breakfast (for a local) which by good chance was lasagne which lines a stomach well and then wandered around the area known as The Rocks which is where the first proper settlement began once the penal colony started to develop into a more conventional settlement. Plenty of old architecture here and marvellous views again. The juxtaposition of old and new here really is comforting to the eye after the States for instance.

A wander back to the hotel took in a Chinese Garden which was refreshing and seemed to feed the mind with relaxing images. Chinese landscaping is extrememly sophisticted and for the attention of Steph and her current studies, this is a place that "really works" by the way.

The rest of the day I spent sleeping. My body clock is completely reversed to the location so it is now the middle of the night here but I am wide awake of course. Earler on I took a stroll in search of breakfast amongst the bars around Darling Harbour (a modern dockside-type development) while every one else around me was finishing their last beer for the night. A hospitable gentleman called Brian invited me onto an old steam ferry now converted into a restaurant but with all the orginal art-deco flavour still in evidence. I admired the curvy wood banisters and brass fitting so appreciatively that he insisted I accompany him to a nearby restaurant where the staff had gathered for an after-hours drink and some pasta. My initial response was to begin making excuses and bow out in true English fashion, but then better judgement came to the fore and I realised that being in Oz for the first time in my life I really should not turn down the offer of a native to socialize. Brian, the manager of the floating restaurant was one of those people-magnets you meet in life anyway and he soon had me chatting to Raquel, Christine, Bridget and Joppi, some of his staff over the delectable Australian Shiraz. How very kind and open-hearted! What comes across as presumption and crassness in Britain (when you are thrust into companionship with cousins from down-under in Youth Hostels across the land) is actually very engaging and warm once you are in unpretentious Sydney. I take back every disparaging thing I ever said about them (well...most). It must get very irritating to be branded as ex-convicts and sexist bone-heads all the time. Believe me, it aint like this when you get here. I always wondered why people wanted to travel to Oz on their gap years but after just 24 hours here I would say come and see for yourselves. I just wish I had longer to get out and see some of the countryside because even in the city there are incredible birds, spiders and trees everywhere - totally unrecognisable to a European not to mention the bloody bats.

Tomorrow back to Singapore which I haven't even touched upon here. I'm afraid it has been rather outshone by Sydney. Just one tip, don't bother with a Singapore Sling - pukesome drink. Stick to something less sickly in all that heat and humidity. Maybe I'll return to Singapore in this blog later on as I certainly have to return there physically.
My little piece of heaven
Steph and Al, Holy Island
Glorix and the beautiful Geert
Mr Ar
Angeline and me
Me and the beguiling Mr P

Friday, April 09, 2004

You'll all have to wait until Tuesday to see the rogues gallery of people I've seen over the past week as my chief gallery assistant has Easter off just like everybody else except me.
After a week away from planes passengers and probems, the thought of going back to work is not appealing, even though it is the southern hempisphere that beckons for the first time in my life. I think I left my heart behind in the north.

Several days in the cottage at Belford have convinced me afresh that there is no place like Northumberland and the Borders. Steph and Alistair came down from Glasgow to help me devour a goodly selection of cheeses and to explore the beauty and wild weather of Holy Island (Lindisfarne). The past week has been one of April showers closely follwed by brilliant bursts of sunshine, high skies and blue seas and lochs. I have also roasted myself beside three different coal fires in three different cottages and shared a glass of whisky with various old friends. Believe me, if I never left these shores again it would be no tragedy.

It was very good to see my Dutchies and to make the acquaintance of Lor's new(ish) botfriend Geert. We had a very gezellig evening in a tiny Scottish cottage near Tarbert which is on the mainland but ...oh well it is too complicated to descirbe the geography of that part of Scotland....get out your maps if you care. I played cards for the first time since Jeroen was alive and was reminded how much I enjoy this and should arrange to do it more often. Anyone fancy being challenged at the card table some time soon?

The 6th April is the anniversary of Jeroen's death and saw the Stoks and myself return to Glasgow to mark the occasion. We had dinner with Alec at Babbity Bowster's which Jude will remember visiting with me, Jeroen and Bob way back in 2001. The 6th of April is a day I object to the very exisence of and I was also aware that this year it coincided with Bob in Wales' first radiotherapy sessions. Surely a day worthy of being wiped from the calendar? Still, even with all these unhappy connotations, Glasgow is an uplifting city to spend time in.

Back in the beautiful border country of Southern Scotland and Northern England a treat was in store in the form of a reunion with one of my former travelling companions from my first trip to The Faroes in 2002. Mr P Middleton (aka The Flower of Scotland) resides in the Yarrow Valley just west of Selkirk. I bet hardly anyone reading my ramblings has ever been to this area, pretty much tucked away between shapely hills and dotted with proud old market towns such as Kelso and Melrose. Well it's gorgeous and frankly I am very jealous of Mr Middleton who seems to lead the Life of Riley even if he does play rather too much golf for sanity. Still, he did manage to knock up a rather impressive salmony pasta thing and was altogether quite stunningly domesticated for a bachelor. I hope to return these favours if he will deign to visit me in Belford once more before it is sold.

Between now and 8pm this evening I have to gather my wits, my clean undies and a plentiful supply of food and books to fuel me through the next nine days. Tonight Singapore, then Sydney, then Singapore again and then back home in nine days time. I find it most offensive that my working day is to begin so late and yet not end for a further sixteen hours! I expect to be a shadow of my former self by the time I next land upon these verdant shores. It has taken the whole week for me to rid myself of the mysterious longhaul cough that gripped me in Chicago. (It turned bronchial you know!). Bloody hell....nine days....it seems a life sentence.

Goodbye cruel world.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Phew. I have had it with travelling. That last effort - Chicago - was the straw that broke the camel's back. I started the trip with a sore throat and dead weights in my limbs and ended it with a hacking cough and a stye threatening in my left eye. The phrase "run down" springs to mind. I'm not quite ill but certainly not well and it's flying and lack of sleep I blame.

This being the case I have failed to make the most of a trip to the windy city. There is a seven hour time change between us at this time of year and somehow that extra hour makes a big difference. You know things aren't right when you can no longer force yourself to sleep and yet it is only 4.30am and no chance of breakfast for several hours yet.

I forced myself out about 7.30am and was blasted east along the street by the vicious wind and onto the shores of Lake Michigan - a stone's throw from the hotel. Four lanes of rush hour traffic hindered me from gaining the sanctuary of the beach for some time but eventually I located the subway and found myself on the deserted white sand, skyscrapers draped in clouds behind me and slate-grey torrid waves in front. It was a dramatic scene but although I tried to capture on camera the phenomenal splashings and crashings the lake was producing, even my trusty Canon Ixus wasn't up to the job. Pictures of water are very difficult, but think sea rather than lake as Michigan is not lake-like at all.

Another symptom of my unspecified malaise manifested itself on the beach. The mood of massive sulk descended, oddly timed, as usually tempestuous seas are uplifting. For the next couple of hours I wandered the residential streets to the north of high-rise Chicago becoming increasingly more weary. I encountered one street with remnants of snow lining the edges which on closer inspection turned out to be fake. Granted there was some real ice in places but most of it was either white plastic sheeting or stuff like loft insulation. I stopped to take a photo which attracted the attention of two men in workman-like overalls. Please think an American voice for half these responses.

"Say, is that your house?"

"No, I'm just interested in the snow."

"Oh, sure!"

"Are you going to be filming here for something?"

"Yeah, that's right! It's a film with Michael Caine and Nicholas Cage! We'll be here all day honey if you want to come back and watch the action?"

"Oh well, maybe. What's the film called?"

"It's The Weather Man. Hey! With and accent like that you must be from Brooklyn right?"

"No, I'm English."

"Oh, cool! One of our directors, he's from England."

"So is Michael Caine actually."

"Oh! Sure!"

One of those encounters where more bridges are shattered than are built between me and my American cousins. But things took a turn for the better when I happened across Mike's Rainbow Diner described by the LPG as "a classic Mid-western diner catering to cops and cabbies craving big breakfasts." Sounded just the ticket as by now it was 4.30pm by my stomach's clock and french toast and bacon was downed with alacrity. The atmosphere in the diner was cheering and earthy. Blue-collar types sat around, ate unheathily and swapped anecdotes - mostly men. It was very unpretentious and I'd highly recommend it to jaded urban warriors.

After this I stopped at an organic supermarket to stock up on fresh juice, olbas oil, a packet of bath salts and some nutritious salads and for the rest of my time in Chicago I stayed in bed. None of this should be seen as a reflection on the city - I have just had enough for now and need a break, which thankfully I have starting from tomorrow.

It's the time of year for visiting Glasgow and the Stoks. I am going via Belford which is about to be sold so my last chance to say farewell to the haven in the north. The end of an era. There wont be any blogging for a few days because of these two events. The next trip is Singapore and Sydney so I hope have bolstered up the flagging reserves of strength and enthusiasm by then.

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